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Saturday, August 28, 2010

Bug Out Bags - Getting Started

One of the first things people do when the embrace prepping is assemble a bug out bag (BOB). This is intended to be a bag with supplies to enable the user to get through a tough time or travel some distance to a safer location. These bags end up with all sorts of names (Get Out Of Dodge, Get Home Bag, etc) but the mission is generally the same: contain the supplies you'll need in an easily transportable container.

Here are some things to consider when starting your first BOB. These are not exhaustive or The Gospel but are intended to be some food for thought.

1) Buy Quality: $20 bags from Cheaper Than Dirt are a waste of time. Someone will pipe up and say "I have one packed with 1,000lbs and it works great". Well, they are the lucky ones. Do you really want to trust your life and that of your families to the cheapest bag possible? Not saying you have to spend $5,000 but just going for cheap typically results in zippers that fall apart, buckles that crack, straps that fray and seems that rip out. If you are on a shoestring budget go to an army surplus store and pick up an old Alice pack. They aren't sexy but at least they are stout.

2) Your bag should be comfortable: Putting a 80lbs bag on your back and walking 50 miles isn't a real picnic. Having a bag that chafes, rubs and pokes you every step of the way isn't going to make it any easier. The bigger the bag the more padding and width the straps should have and the more important things like kidney pads, waist belts, chest straps, suspension systems, etc become.

3) Consider the mission: What is the bag for? Is it to grab in the event you have to evacuate the house due to a chemical spill or to travel overland for a year? Those are two different goals and as such the contents of your bag will differ accordingly. Consider what you want to accomplish with your bag and this will help you to determine what you put in your bag.

Also, don't forget that a BOB doesn't necessary have to be for playing Mad Max in the woods. Lets say you are in a wheelchair and there's no way in hell you are going overland. You may, however, have a plan to drive across town to your parents more rural home and set up camp there. Wouldn't it be nice to have some spare wheelchair parts handy? Put those in your bag. You can almost eliminate food and water from the bag (or at least only have some emergency rations) but then increase the amount of gear you pack to make life more comfortable at your parents house. The point is a BOB isn't always about hiking 400 miles Omega Man style.

3) Don't Pack the Kitchen Sink: The number one mistake people make with BOB's is to stuff it full of 127lbs of equipment, most of which isn't needed. Put together a list of everything you'll need for your intended mission. Then start going through it with the mantra of "weight kills". Start eliminating items. Start looking for items that can serve a dual purpose. Start looking for gadgets that will do 10 different things. Look for any way to eliminate items and reduce weight.

Example: Do you really need a 4 burner Coleman stove when an esbit stove with Trioxane tabs will do? Do you really need a full blown propane torch when one of those pencil jobs will do? You get the idea.

Point is, you want to get that pack as light as humanly and reasonably possible.

4) Organize: Remember, the time you actually use the pack will, by definition, be stressful. The LAST thing you need is to be digging around in a gigantic bottomless pit of gear. Classic example is an epi pen. If you need it to deal with an allergic reaction do you really want it lost in a pit of stuff while your daughters windpipe swells shut? (Hold on sweetie...I know it's in here somewhere!)

Put a lot of thought into what items you'll need to access frequently or quickly and have them easily accessible. Things like firstaid, emergency food, compass, radios, basic tools should likely be in outer/easy reach pockets.

Also, consider this maxim: detachable pouches have a tendency to detach. So don't put anything in a detachable pouch that you can't afford to have detached and lost. Also, secure those pouches so you aren't wasting time fiddling with semi-detached pouches when you should be making tracks. 550 or para cord is a personal favorite for this.

5) Test the pack out: Put the thing on. Walk around, do some jumping jacks, bend over, squat down and try to stand up. See what it feels like or if it's unbalanced. More desired is to actually go camping with the thing and wear it for three straight days to see how it really feels and performs. Modify what doesn't work. If you can't go camping, put it on and wear it around the house a couple of days while you do your normal chores.

Looking good sitting on the shelf doesn't mean squat compared to actually working on your back.

6) It's a work in progress: Know that once you complete your pack that it will likely morph over time. It's not uncommon for BOB's to be rebuilt 5 and 6 different times as needs change and/or wisdom is gained. In fact, the worst thing you can do is build a BOB, toss it in a dark place, let it sit for 10 years and then expect it to perform when needed. You should be checking on the contents every so often to make sure batteries haven't busted or the like. But more importantly, keep modifying the contents and their locations to suit your needs.

So there you go. Like I said, this isn't the exhaustive list of what to do, but it should be enough to get you started.

If you want a list of items to put in your bag check out this thread: Bug Out Bags - Pictures and Advice There are lots of great setups and supplies lists to help give you ideas.

If you are a certified GearWhore, like I am, you'll quickly realize that while the use of a BOB is deadly serious, building BOB's can be a lot of fun. Don't stress out over details. Use common sense. Build a bag that makes sense to you and your objectives. Don't get hyper-focused on playing GI Joe in the woods for 10 years.

Closing thought: There seems to be a lot of debate about what type of bag to get. Some say avoid military looking bags because you'll draw attention to yourself. You can get a plain old camping style bag and "blend in". My opinion (because I know you are sitting on pins and needles waiting for it)....don't get caught up in minutia. If you dashing out the house because of a chemical spill nobody cares what their bag looks like. If things have gotten so bad that you and the family are walking 200 miles to a Super-Secret Bat Cave what sort of pack you have is the least of your worries (not to mention, if things have gotten that bad people are going to attack you no matter what. They aren't going to turn away because you have a NorthFace bag instead of a Maxpedition).

I'd rather you spend your mental energy on determining what goes in the bag, or the location of the content so the bag can help save your life than loosing sleep over a minor detail like what the bag looks like.